Oliveto Cafe & Restaurant
5655 College Avenue
Oakland, CA 94618
Argentina native Esteban Brunello’s interest in hospitality began in Buenos Aires, where he worked in hotels before moving to the United States. Choosing San Francisco as his ideal North American destination, Brunello recognized the city’s appreciation for wine and culinary culture and wanted to take part in the action. He held his first serving position at Alegrias, where he used his Argentine background and native Spanish tongue to excel in the industry. He immediately developed a passion for wine and spirits and subsequently became a bartender at Dirty Martini, Circa, and Farina Foccacia & Cucina Italiana over the following years.
It wasn’t until a move to Colorado that Brunello began his quest toward becoming a sommelier. While attending classes at the International Sommelier Guild at the Metropolitan State College of Boulder and the Court of Master Sommeliers, he began working as a sommelier at Alba Ristorante in Denver. He eventually returned home to Argentina and applied his acquired wine knowledge as a wine consultant to a hotel in Buenos Aires. The lure of San Francisco quickly called him back, however, and Brunello returned only a month later to work as sommelier and front of the house manager at SPQR, where he continued his wine education with mentor and 2010 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Shelley Lindgren.
In 2012, Brunello took the reins of the wine program at Oakland’s Oliveto, applying years of experience and love for Italian wines. Enthusiastic about Italian wine varietals, Brunello pours interesting and reasonably priced wines alongside Chef Jonah Rhodehamel’s exquisite cuisine.
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Interview with 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Chef Esteban Brunello
Katherine Sacks: How did you get interested in wine?
Esteban Brunello: A long time a go in a restaurant that I used to be a food runner at, I found out there was a wine with my last name. I wanted to taste it, because I loved the idea, and I got more and more into wine. I like French wines but my specialty is Italian wines. I got more involved with wine and then decided to study it.
KS: What wine certifications do you have?
EB: I’ve taken the first level of guild certifications, but I’m not a huge fan of the Court of Masters. It’s not updated, now a days in restaurants everything is non-smoking, but they still ask questions about cigars. The program needs to be updated. But I have lots of friends that are master sommeliers and they push me to do it.
KS: What are your go-to wine resources?
EB: I like to go straight to the wine makers websites, I consider them to be the most accurate. Sommeliers add so much wording that people want to hear but I appreciate really the words winemakers say, the way they talk about their wines. I encourage all servers and bartenders to attend winemaker dinners to learn from the winemakers. Their philosophy, that’s how you understand the winemakers style and their ability.
KS: What is your approach to wine pairing?
EB: Of course you can follow the table, acid with acid, weight with weight, but the reality is, coming from Argentina and having a European background, sometimes I don't want to interfere with the table. If their focus is on a wine, I might serve it because I just want the table to have a good time. Of course, I follow the regular patterns of pairing wine with food, tasting wine with food; it’s something I like to do a lot, tasting by the glass.
KS: What wines do you collect at home?
EB: Right now at home I have around 430 bottles, that goes from Argentine wine to mostly Italian. I have to say 75 percent Italian, 10 percent French, and the rest is divided, some Croatian, and I love Slovenian wines. I was born in 1976, and have a Brunello 1976 for my 36th birthday.